Sunday, April 4, 2010

Joyeuse Pâques!

So today I had an incredible meal at my brother in law's parents.  Seriously, incredible eating.  As with all French meals, there were multiple courses. First there was the aperitif.  We had champagne and batonette, feuilletée wrapped sausages and empanadas.  Pretty good way to start out if I don't say so myself.  Then we had the pâte au Pâques.  To explain, because this has to be explained, it is similar to a pâte feuilletée surrounding more farce, sausage I think, surrounding an egg.  It's cut up so that all pieces have a little of everything.  For the main plate there was a vegetable quiche, rabbit stuffed turkey breast, and mousseline de carrot. 

Mousseline is this really velvety puree that's strained extra fine and is without lumps.  I can't explain how wonderful this is, so you will just have to believe me.  It's good with carrots, but I could imagine it to be Jesus when done with potatoes.  Apparently, you can make a mousseline with a lot of different things.  I was looking up some more stuff about it, and someone was talking about a mousseline de Coquille St. Jacques (scallops,)  So it's a mad world.  We'll just leave it at that.

So after that there was cheese.  There was a Corsican cheese, which was damn near incredible, manchego, which is always incredible, and goat cheese, which I could do without myself.   Ah well, 2 out of 3 ain't bad.  But yeah, there's something about good quality cheese with bread that's just well, amazing.  So yeah, we move along. 

Now dessert was the kicker.  There were two finger desserts. there was one that was pieces of pâte à choux covered with chocolate, sliced toasted almonds, and orange zest.  It was very good, and very light.  It was really perfect after a meal like the one we had.  The other, was even lighter, if that's possible.  They were like what we Americans would call cream puffs (profiteroles for those more brave) but they weren't filled with that god awful pudding, neither ice cream nor whipped cream.  I desperately need to learn how to make the cream they were filled with, which is called Creme St. Honore. (Honoratus)

Now this is kind of an interesting story.  The reason why it's called Creme St. Honore is to honor the Saint, obviously, but more than that, St. Honore is the patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs.  I found this incredibly amusing, but at the same time, it felt a little like St. Prada, our lady of accessories.

Creme St. Honore is a pastry cream, so something like Creme Anglaise, that is mixed with stiffly beaten egg whites.  It ends up something like an incredibly light, uncooked meringue.  It's incredible.  Seriously, look it up and make it.  Just eat it out of the bowl.  Totally good enough to do just that.

Of course, would it be Easter without an Easter Egg hunt?  So my youngest niece, being 6, searched around the jardin for the eggs.  She found them all, and spoiled her appetite.  She's little, it's what kids do.  She ate some, and of course had room for dessert, but she didn't eat much of the meal.  All told, we spent about 6 hours there.  We talked a lot, and had a great time.

I should have some new stuff as we will be going on a week long trip to Tours.  I will have pictures most likely, as well as some videos up on youtube.  So hopefully you'll find something to your liking.  I am very excited about it.  The first meal in Tours?  You guessed it: Quick!

Happy Easter to all, and I hope you celebrated to the best of your ability.  (For some, that means one Irish Car Bomb for each of the 12 apostles.  If you can walk after John, Peter and Paul are on the house!)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


My partner and I were in the supermarket the other day and we were looking at buying some charcuterie for the week.  We always buy a fair amount of chorizo, as I could probably live off the stuff.  So we were talking about how much we would need, and we decided on about 12 slices.  So when he was speaking to the charcutier, may partner said "une douzaine."  So of course, this directly translated in my mind.  It was too similar to a dozen to not make the connection. 

Now a week later or so, we were with my sister in law.  She was buying something and we were talking about how many we would need.  So we were thinking about how many people we were buying for, all that, and eventually we decided on about 10.  So when she's speaking with the woman at the counter, she uses the phrase "une dizaine." After realizing she had not in fact said "douzaine," my little American mind was blown.

Apparently this is something rather common in France though.  The "-aine" ending can be put on just about any number of things.  So you could have about 20 of something, resulting in French to be described as, "une vingtaine."  You can do the same with any number in the tens, except once they start to get too high.  However, once you're back in the hundreds place, you can do it again.  Let's not go crazy with this theory though.

That's all on this end for now, but I should be back with some interesting information on filming in France.  I'm going to be in a movie here!  I have lines to learn and all that kind of stuff.  I will try and post a link when/if it's available. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Oh, that's Alsace!

Pauline Lefebre on the Elections!

If you go to about 18:00 into La Partie 2 you will understand.  Well, really, if you heard about the French elections that happened on Sunday, it was a pretty thorough rout of the UMP (Union Mouvement Populare), and a pretty solid win for la PS (Parti Socialiste).  The clearest victory was in Poitou-Charentes for Ségolène Royal.  She took 61 percent of the vote.  Overall, the popular vote finished the second round with 49 percent for the PS and and 35 percent for the UMP.  The other party that was involved in the elections had a pretty miserable showing, but for them, 16 percent was pretty impressive.  They are known as the Front National.

French elections are quite a bit different from American elections, especially in that a party is outright calling itself socialist.  They also vote twice and by popular vote.  The first vote is to determine who makes it to the second vote.  So in the first term there was the UMP, PS, Front National, MODEM (Mouvement démocrate), Front Gauche, and Europe écologie.  Out of these different possibilities, only the first three continued through.  So in the second election, you could only choose from between the UMP, PS, and FN. 

The UMP is the main conservative party in France.  I should really say the more conservative party because even some of the stuff they believe in wouldn't fly in America.  They are what we could consider center right, to right.  They are also the party of the current president, Nicolas Sarkozy.  For most of the French people I know, he is basically George Bush, Jr. with a brain.  There have been a lot of caricatures of him, much like Bush and really any world leader, but lately there have been a lot of Petit Nicolas references.  One thing that may really be none of my business to also mention is that shortly after his campaign he divorced his wife, and married Italian model turned French chanteuse Carla Bruni shortly thereafter.  Carla was his third wife.  Did I mention he ran on a family values platform?

The PS is the main left party in France.  They are more of what we would call Progressives in the US.  The  best known is, of course, Ségolène Royal.  She ran for president against Sarkozy and did fairly well.  Being a Progressive, this is more of how I see my self and how I would vote in France. 

There are a variety of other parties here.  The Front National is the extreme right party here.  It's headed by Jean-Marie Le Pen and his daughter Marine Le Pen.  It's a pretty nationalist outfit.  They want to take things to extremes.  The MODEM party is the center party, but probably what we would consider center left.  Front Gauche would never do well in the US.  They are beyond Progressives.  Europe écologie is similar to the Green party in Germany.  I would say the Green party in the US, but they accomplish nothing, especially if they keep putting Nader on the ticket. 

I am generally pleased with the outcomes.  Lets see where it takes us. 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

St. Patrick's Day

I will already tell you, there was no big thing for St. Patrick's Day here.  No hangover, no green beer, and that would be unthinkable to do to wine.  I also don't think you'd really want to drink naturally green wine.  On the positive side, no pinching and no blatant expositions of Irishness.  No decorations either though, which was nice.  My mother tends to take the holidays a bit overboard.  It's reassuring though.  Should you ever have a psychotic break, you always know what month it is.

So what I did find amusing is that even though St. Patrick's Day isn't "observed" in the US, they do have saint's Days.  In fact, there are lots of saint's days in France.  For example, my name although there is no saint who directly bears my name, my name descends from St. Francis of Assisi.  So my  saint's day is October 4.  I am not sure how exactly it's determined though, or if you can choose.  That may be something better left to a priest.  (It also may be St. Peter if you go off the name which I took when I was confirmed.  My mother is catholic and it made her happy, so I did it.)  So therefore, you could possibly have people calling you up on your saint's day and wishing you a happy saint's day.

More likely than not though, it's meaningless.  People may comment on it, but you don't really get presents.  It's more of a trivia thing.  I asked my boyfriend when his was, he knew immediately.  It's like how we have horoscopes in the US (which France also has) or blood types in Japan.  It's not something commonly known or discussed, so don't be surprised if you ask someone and they have no idea when it is.

It's funny though, if you ever get your hair cut in France, you may see a pile of them sitting on the counter where you get it done.  Often they are paired with cologne/perfume samples.  It's something more for the novelty of having than something to take seriously of course.  I have never met anyone who took them seriously or really cared about them though.  More of a trivia thing, and it's more common for the older generation to know, or even say something about it to the younger generations.

Just something I thought about today.  So Happy Saint Patrick's Day.  Who wants to go run some snakes out of some countries?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Royal Cheese

So, of course as an American in France, I am overwhelmed at the quality of food.  It's France after all, the mother country.  Wine everywhere, and more pastry than you could shake a baguette at.  I really hadn't missed much in terms of American food, excluding caffeine, but that's a different case in itself.  Every now and again, I might have something that was kind of like an American product, but not exactly the same, or was supposed to be just like something else, but nope, not really.

One place that I had enjoyed all of my life, and still do despite the tone of this article, is Mc Donald's.  I don't know about anyone else reading this, but it was that one place where you always knew what you were going to get.  Everyone had their favorites, and rarely deviated from that path.  In college, it was my lunch every day, and lord help me when they got debit readers in every location.  I was done, and my gut showed it.

I had been to Mc Donald's my first time in France when my partner met me at the airport.  We had to catch a train, but we were both hungry.  So we took a stop on the metro, and we were searching for someplace to eat.  He had found a Mc Donald's, Saint-Graal, as I sometimes call it.  So after he thought for a minute about what the actual name was for things in French (imagine the confusion on the face of the woman running the register when he asked for a "double cheeseburger" with a French accent) we had a nice meal.  Although the fries were smaller, and the drinks were way smaller.  We had to hurry, so I didn't really notice much.

The other weekend, we went to Mc Donald's with our niece.  We're relatively the same age, so it was all good.  They were ordering together and I was ordering separate.  Before we went in, I had to ask a few times to make sure what to ask for, and how.  For example, when you order a combo, it's called a "menu."  Since it's French so the "u" comes out like your mouth is saying an "e" but your lips are saying a very hard "u."

So I am looking over the prices of stuff.  It's quite ridiculous.  6 euros for a combo meal.  I say I guess, and just go with it.  I ended up getting what looked like a quarter pounder with cheese combo, a 6 piece mc nugget, and a chocolate muffin.  14 euros.  I am not joking.  After the initial laughter wore off, I ran my card, which had to be signed because it was a foreign card.  French people are very ill equipped for this.  It literally causes all kinds of confusion.  So I sign and wait.  And wait.   And wait some more.

They were short on fries, and they really didn't seem to be in a hurry about it.  I am used to the American ones where they handle lots of people fast.  they just kind of stood around and waited for the fries to get done.  Not much of a rush place.  I dunno, Mc Donald's in the US just seem faster.  Maybe it's just me.  So we head home and have a great dinner where I know exactly what to expect. 

The next day I talk with my sister in law about how expensive it was.  She said that yes, it's very expensive to be prohibitive.  That way people will not just get fast food.  There is, literally no joke here, a 20% tax on all food at Mc Donald's.  I was shocked.  I saw an article where they were trying to do it in the US, and I just thought it was hilarious.  I was not as outraged by it as I would have been if I were still living in Ohio.  Pretty crazy.  But yeah, part of me doesn't think it's such a bad idea anymore.

So I checked my bank account after, and I spent over 18 dollars at a Mc Donald's.  I remember when I used to get dinner for my partner and I, we were talking 12 dollars, and we had two full bags.  But such is France.  More to get used to, I guess.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Chez moi est chez toi

Earlier in the morning I was talking with my partner about what was going on that day.  As far as I knew, nothing.  We were sitting in the room with our nieces, one talking one coloring.  He said that he wasn't sure if he was going out, because my sister in law and my nieces were planning on going to pick up some new shoes and pick up some manga.  I wanted to see if the new manga for Ikigami was out, so I asked if it would be ok to go with  them.  They said it was fine, of course, but I would have to endure getting new shoes first.  I didn't really have an issue with it, so I took a shower, and we went.

So as we were going in, one of my nieces said told the other one that we were going "chez [name of store]."  I stood there for a minute, amazed at the usage.  First and foremost, it was a store.  I had heard "chez" used before when referring to someone's house, but it's really amazing at how useful of a preposition it is.  It generally means at someone's place. 

Naturally, you can say "chez moi," meaning my place, but you can also say "chez boucher," meaning at the butcher's.  Additionally, it can be used for a group.  So you could say something like "chez les Bleus," which depending on context could mean any number of the stadiums of any national sports team in France.  [Most typically used for football, but can just as easily be applied to rugby, handball, etc.]  Additionally it can be used for customs, especially when they are peculiar to a culture.  For example, "Chez les Français, on fait la bise." [In France, most people you greet will kiss you on both sides of the cheek, unless they don't know you or want to keep their distance.  Then it's a handshake.  I've found it's easiest to follow the other person's lead.]

It can also mean in the work/writings of someone.  You could introduce something like "Chez Dumas . . . " meaning "In the works of Dumas . . . ."  So this is a clever little announcer that might help you sound a little more native, depending on what you're discussing.  I am not sure of it's level of formality, so it's on the watch list for now.

So I asked what the root was of "chez."  Fairly obviously, it's Latin root is "casa."  It means house, hut, or cottage depending on use.  Most if not all Latin languages share the root. More specifically in meaning, "chez" comes to mean something where someone, or a group of people,  has control over it.  In using "chez" for a house, it's implying that it is relating to the person who has control over it.

"Chez moi" is more saying the place where I have control than specifically, "my house."  If you wanted to generally say that it was your house, you would simply say "ma maison."  In a way, you may be able to compare it to the difference between "house" and "home" in English.

Also, my niece has developed a taste for declaring the United States, "Le plus drôle pays du monde."  I don't think it would be nearly as funny, were she not six. 

Friday, March 5, 2010


Tonight, I was trying to get some stuff taken care of on the telephone, and I needed to call someone here in France.  As I am speaking with them, I realize I am getting the run around.  This happens a lot when you ask the question, "Parlez-vous Anglais?" to a French worker on the telephone.  Also, if you're polite with them.  So after a few more calls, my sister in law said she would call.  She deals with these kinds of people all day, so she'll strike fear into their hearts.  If they started to cry, she said she would put them on speaker phone. All she needed was the number.  So I start reading off the number in the standard American format, "Cinq, Cinq, Cinq, etc."  She is typing in the number, but she missed one.  So she goes again.  I start reading the numbers off again.  She misses the area code this time.  So I set the paper down, and my partner reads her the number.

My niece was also there and she was smiling a little, and then she asked the question, "Is that really how Americans read off telephone numbers?"

I said, "Yeah, this is pretty much uniform.  We read one number at a time, unless it's something that ends in a 5 or 0.  We'll read all four if it ends in two zeros too."

So it was then, I realized the problem.  French telephone numbers are not formatted like American numbers.  All numbers in France are formatted as two number groupings.  So if you were to see a number like, 22 32 60 45 19, it's read as "vingt-deux, trente-deux, soixante, quarante-cinq, dix-neuf."  It would break an American's brain to say something like "four hundred nineteen, seven hundred eighty four, five thousand five hundred twenty-two."  So for telephone numbers it's just what we do.  Just like French people say their numbers as the two digit versions. 

It was really fun to see her in action I have to say.  As my partner put it, "The problem is that you're too nice on the phone." 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

You cough, you die!

I do have to say, there is one thing that never ceases to amuse me.  I can go downstairs, right now, and I can pull out somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 different medications with varying drugs used.  There are syrups for a dry cough as well as a separate syrup for a wet cough.  If it's caused by something in your throat, I can find that too.  Should it be a chest cough; don't worry, there's something for you there too.  There's paracetamol, nurofen, efferalgon, dafalgon, advil, and helicidine just to name a few. 

I should preface this with the fact that I am coming from a different perspective.  I was always taught that it is both stupid and dangerous to take drugs unless you seriously needed them.  As a result, I became terrified that if I took drugs too much, I would someday have something that couldn't be relieved, regardless of the drugs.  So, instead of taking pills when I had a headache, I would take a nap.  If I had a fever, I would take a lukewarm showers.  

Should it mean anything, I grew up in a medical family.  10 of my mother's 11 brothers and sisters were either doctors, nurses, or lab technicians.  My mother was an x-ray technician.  My dad is a registered nurse and still works in the emergency room.  I could always ask them if I was unsure about something, or if I needed to go see a specialist.  However, it was always the rule: "Unless it's an emergency, wait a week on what you have. If it's still there, it's something to worry about.  We'll see a doctor then."

However, I feel I was an exceptionally immune child.  I never had strep throat until I was older, the same for a sinus infection.  I had chicken pox when all my brothers and sisters did, but I never had measels, or really got worse than a cold or a fever.  I remember there were certain classmates who would just disappear for a few days and come back after some sort of illness.  Another friend I had in high school was showing me all the different medications she was on.  I couldn't believe it.  She wasn't even 20 and she was on probably 6 inhalers and/or medications.  So I thought that maybe it was just my family.  Maybe there was something off.  Maybe. 

I really never though much about it until I came over to my partner's apartment one day.  I said I had a headache, and I needed some tylenol.  He pointed me in the direction of one of the bathroom drawers.  So I walked up and pulled it open.  A tidal wave of drugs, pills, and syrups came out at me.  I just had to laugh for a minute, and my thought went back to my friend.  I still wondered if there was something I just wasn't getting.  So I grabbed what I hoped was a headache remedy and went back to make sure it was indeed what I needed. It wasn't.

There were other times, like when his mother came to visit, and she would bring a fairly large bag of different French medications.  We seriously had an entire drawer and a shoebox packed to the gills with medications.  I had 4 of things in this drawer: a bottle of pepto-bismol, a box of nyquil sinus, a bottle of pseudoephedrine my father got for me from the pharmacy at work, and a bottle of Alieve.  But every time he came back from France, or someone came to visit, we had a whole new stock of medications we hadn't come close to using up.

Moving on to France though,  it turns out everyone is like this.  If you have a headache, you take a pill.  If you have an ache, drug up.  A cough?  There's a syrup for that.  People have no issue with just running to a doctor and getting it taken care of.  Since I have been here, I think every member of my family here has been to the doctor at least once. 

Now, obviously the difference lies in the systems, partially.  In the US, you can expect to pay a minimum of $50 to as much as $200 to see a doctor.  In France, it's usually less than 30 euros, and is usually reimbursed.  There are also pharmacies everywhere.  My partner comes from a town of less than 10,000 people and I know of at least 5 pharmacies there.  (You can always tell because there's a green cross out front.)  You also can't just buy medications.  You have to ask for them.  You speak about what your problem is and the pharmacien will determine what's needed for your special case.  And this is for anything, seriously, anything.  Imagine having to speak to a pharmacist every time you want to buy a bottle of ibuprofen or tylenol?  It's bad enough that in Ohio you have to ask for pseudoephedrine at the counter.  Annoying.

Another thing that amuses me is this medication called Actifed Jour &Nuit.  (translated as Actifed Day and Night.)  Yeah, you're thinking Nyquil or Dayquil and so was I.  Well, not exactly.  You don't just take one when your feeling ill, you have to take a whole series.  There's a pill for when you wake up, another when you eat, another in the late evening, and another before you go to bed.  French people are also very serious about taking those pills.  I was asked every morning, afternoon, and night if I had taken my pill.  Even if I hadn't, I just said yes. 

I found another site that explained a bit more about things.  So here's that link:

Things are going well here.  I had a great birthday, and well, let's just say the hangover was worth it.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

So when do I get my beret?

So earlier today, my partner asked if I would mind getting bread.  He knew that I would say yes, so it was really a loaded question anyway, but he asked nonetheless.   So I walk into town and think about what I should do.  First priority is to check the game store (which I was totally psyched because I found Ico, which I had been searching for, something like 6 years.  It's like Xenogears, it's never getting resold.) and then to go pull some money out for the bread. 

I think about the really good bakery in town.  The bread is that perfect crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside mix.  It tastes delicious, and smells even better.  Also, nine times out of ten, it's warm when I get it.  Since it is a bakery, they also have desserts, and this place in particular, has doughnuts.  It's really good too.  I remembered that I saw one the other day that was dipped in chocolate.  (I have never seen any of the filled doughnuts that I love back in the US, but hey, what can you do?  Tim Horton's isn't on every block here.)  They also have chocolate croissants, and well, lots of other delicious French pastry.  I was sold on the idea, but then I really needed something to drink.  They don't have any drinks for sale there, unfortunately.

So then, I remember that there's the other bakery.  It's ok, but it's a chain.  They have a lot of good desserts as well, and they even serve sandwiches.  There's also this woman that works there that I kind of sort of joke flirt with.  (One thing to let you know, everyone will think you're cute if you play your accent just right.)  But they have so many nice pastries, and these little sugar covered hearts.  I was going to buy them the other day to bring home, but was thwarted by a mother of four followed by three high school girls coming in for lunch.  Seriously, they all ate enough for a medium sized flotilla.  Plus, they sell coke there. 

Now, as I said, it's an ok bakery but it's not like the great bakery here in town.  The bread is not nearly as crispy on the outside, and it's always kinda spongy on the interior.  That I can deal with.  After all, I lived on American bread for 26 years, a few more pieces of pain de mie aren't going to kill me.  But my biggest issue is with the flavor.  The great bakery has this soft, nutty, yeasty taste that makes them the Jesus of bread.  The ok bakery is probably a Joseph Smith at best.  It just tastes like they used chlorinated water to make it.  It's a little chemical heavy compared to the great bakery. 

So as I was pulling my money out, I was thinking it was more comical that I was rating bread, considering not only that I had lived my entire life on American bread, but more than that, my parents would always buy about 8 loaves of bread at a time, and freeze them.  We weren't even talking Wonderbread or Nickel's, or hell, even Bunny bread for those of you who know it.  This was L'oven Fresh.  We also went through a lot, and I mean, a lot of bread, and cream cheese, not so coincidentally.

So I take my money, and my American tendency to drink pop wins out.  Happy birthday to me.  So one canette of coke later, and I am set!  I return back to the house triumphantly.  I still think it's funny that no matter how long you are in a place, base emotions or wants still take precedence over any layer of foreign socializing that you may install.  On a related note, damn if that coke wasn't good. 

That's it for now.  It's a cloudy 54 degrees here right now.  I hope you're all feeling well, and things are going smoothly.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

-flettes of varying degrees

So the other day, my brother in law was making dinner with my niece.  I noticed a boiling pot of water on the stove, and in it were a lot of little squares of pasta.  I had never seen it before, and I did remember that it was being discussed the other night, when discussing this as dinner.  As with most other French meals to which I have been a party, there was also various pork products and of course cheese.  It was pretty damn good looking overall, and I briefly discussed a couple of language points, but well, my interest in food, got the better of me. 

So of course, I asked what it was called.  Croziflette.  So I have no idea what that means, but it's one of two dishes that end in -flette that I know of.  The other being Tartiflette.  It's good, and gets its flavor predominantly from the cheese you use in it, Reblochon.  It's potatoes, cheese, and some kind of meat.  It's a lot like what we would call a skillet in the US, so called because they are cooked in a skillet.  I always did wonder why my partner always got the same thing when we would go to the breakfast place down the street.  After a few weeks in France, I understood why. 

We'll start first with the pasta.  They are known as crozet au sarrasin.  When I asked about the last word in that expression, yes, all of the medieval history buffs' eyebrows should be shooting up, it was confirmed that it's the English word, Saracen.  For those who don't know, Saracen is an old word for any Muslim, but it more precisely refers to members of the nomadic tribes on the Syrian border of the Roman Empire.  I think it's most likely because of the nature of the pasta.  It is made from rye flower, and I have been told, similar to couscous in make up.  Either way, I was totally ready to eat it.  So that worked. 

Now as I said, it's similar to a skillet, an to the average American, it means meat.  There was one breakfast skillet I used to get in particular that had a variety of meats in it.  And it was paradise.  Much like the American one, -flette at the end of a dish seems to mean pork products.  Of course, being that I think I have discussed it ad nauseum, it usually means lardons.  Lardons are these tiny little cut up pieces of thick bacon.  They are poetry.  There was also ham.  Big strips of ham.  It's wonderful.  I was hoping they would be latticed like a covering for a pie, but it was not in the stars.

Of course, what skillet would be complete without cheese?  Americans are not adventurous when it comes to cheese typically.  There are people who can stomach strong cheeses, but well, most Americans are just fine with cheddar, or its exotic cousin, Swiss.  French people normally put Swiss cheese on everything.  However, if you have ever been to France, it becomes obvious that Emmenthaler cheese is not exotic, like it is to Americans.  Emmenthaler is sold in bags like how we sell cheddar or mozzarella, or when they decide to get general and just call it Mexican cheese, or my personal favorite, pizza cheese. 

No, the cheese used this night was the stuff that you find in a case across from the deli that costs about ten dollars for 3 inches.  First, there was gouda, and another whose name escapes me.  it was poetic though. And as I mentioned earlier, reblochon.  Reblochon is one of those cheeses that you couldn't even buy in the case in the supermarket in the US.  Reblochon, like Raclette, is one of those cheeses you have to buy at the whole food store or a specialty cheese store. 

Reblochon is a cheese that is naturally a little melty, like Brie or Camembert.  It has a bizarre taste alone, and complements starches and carbs really well.  It comes from cow's milk, so it's not anything too out there, to let you know.  It comes from a verb meaning "to pinch the udder twice."  This was done because the owners of the herds were charged by how much milk their herds produced.  Holding the milk back was advantageous for two reasons.  First, it meant that the owners of the herds paid less in taxes, and the resulting milk taken after was richer.  As a writer's note, if you cut it and leave it on a plate, it will stick like hell.  Just a friendly warning.

So after that triumph, there was the mixture of onions, shallots, and spices.  Everything came together a lot like lasagna.  It was about three or four layers, and then cooked in the oven for something like 20 minutes.  When it came out, it was beautifully crisp on top.  I am a huge fan of crispness, which is demonstrated by the copious amounts of breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, and cheese that I believe is compulsory for good macaroni and cheese. 

So if you see something that ends in -flette, it will most likely involve carbs/starch, lots of cheese, lardons/ham, and onions.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Kouign Amann

Before we went to visit in Bretagne, we were having dinner with my sister and brother in law.  As we were speaking, the conversation turned to the trip.  My partner said that we would bring back a Kouign Amann.  Everyone at the table had wistful looks on their faces at the mere mention of this.  Of course, myself being the odd one out, I had no idea what it was.  There was a brief discussion of how wonderful it was, but eventually I had to interject, and ask what on earth this was.

Before I continue, this is apparently an exceedingly difficult thing to pronounce.  The way I heard it pronounced, it sounded like something from the Lord of the Rings.  (Apparently, when said incorrectly, it sounds like the Elven language, Quenya, with the word "man" attached.)  However correctly pronounced, I apologize in advance for my horrible phonetic transcription, it sounds something like Kwen amahn.  There's a dangerous tendency for an engma, to mysteriously appear in it.  So this little bugger is pretty hard to pronounce. 

Now, as for what it is, I will use my brother in law's explanation as it amuses me the most.  As he told me, Think of it as a cake that's 80% butter, 20% sugar, and enough flour to hold it together.  So my first thought is, "how can this possibly taste good?"  I am immediately thinking of a custard like cake, only no eggs or gelatin added.  I also question this because my partner's family are fairly health conscious individuals.  Although they may have a strong love of Galette Des Rois, this just seemed a bit too much.  Of course, they said this is the kind of thing you only have one piece of.  I still found this idea amusing, as I could out eat anyone at the table of course. 

Additionally, there was a quick discussion of where exactly we would be buying one.  My sister in law said that it would be exceedingly hard to find.  She said it was a very hard cake to make right, and it probably wouldn't be readily available.  My brother in law said it would most likely be available in the grocery store but more likely in a bakery.  So we had a plan, and we would figure out how things are. 

When we first arrive, we ask my mother in law where would be the best place to get one.  She said that there was a bakery in the next village over that had received a gold medal for baking them.  So with that question answered,  We continue our visit to Bretagne, have a great time, and on the second to last day, we decide we need to buy the Kouign Amann.  So we go to the bakery, in this little village that I had been in before.  When my partner and I came through the first time, I had actually just assumed it was nothing more than a ghost town with a church.  It turns out we had just come in the wrong side.  There were houses, a bakery of course, schools, etc.  So I was rather shocked myself.  We picked up the last kouign amann, had it wrapped up, and headed back. 

We made it back fine, and presented our cake, victoriously!  It looked very similar to other French cakes I had seen before.  It was matte on the top, with a little shine to it from the sugar.  The top was very caramelized, and sugary.  It was wonderful I have to say.  The inside was pretty much a sponge of butter.  It's not a bad cake, but not something of which I am a huge fan.  The top was wonderful, but the inside, could have been better.

I was satisfied with the outcome, and glad to see that everyone enjoyed it.  I don't know really what to make of it myself.  After I knew how to spell it, I had assumed that almonds would be involved because of the end.

I also should probably apologize for the massive update hole.  I let things get away from me, among the things that distracted me was a trip to London.  I was debating writing one on England, but well, there were too many things and not enough time.  Although I will say this one thing; way out, seriously? 

Hopefully I'll have more to rant about soon! :-)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I will warn everyone ahead of time, this is going to be an exceedingly geeky, so just as a preface now, get ready to find out my levels of geekery, should you not have been aware before. 

Yes, I am one of those people.  Back on the 26th October of 2000, I got a call from my friend.  She needed me to hurry up, because a line was already forming.  It was only 5:30 and I had cleaned out my bank account the day before.  As much as working at Wendy's had sucked that summer, it was all worth it now.  By the end of the night, I would be one of the few, the proud, the owners of a PS2.  So we waited 6 hours in line, for two of 8.  (It should be noted that my PS2 still works, and never had to be sent in for repairs, once.) 

I am clearly a Playstation fanboy, and am deeply in love with most Sony gaming systems.  Fortunately, my partner shares my addiction, and have passed many a happy afternoon, geeking it up.  As a result we have a whole slew of video games.  When packing, we seriously ditched clothes to make sure we could take our games.  I even had the honor of having the PS3 and 360 in my carry on.  (It could hardly be called a carry on at that point, as it could have easily crushed several small villages.)  But everything made it just fine, now for the hard part.  The power situation.

I say the hard part because for anyone familiar with traveling overseas, you can't plug in any electronics.  The plugs change, usually based on continent, but well, England's proving that not to be the case thank you very much.  So first you have to search around the place for converter plugs.  I had an old one from a previous trip, so we were set with one.  However, we needed about...well.....forty-six thousand.

Of course, there were options for the plugs, as just getting the adapter is relatively simple in France.  The most expensive option, of course, was Fnac, which is pretty much the same thing as Virgin Megastore, for those of you who remember it.  They rang in at about 15 bucks after everything was said and done.  The next option was Monoprix.  That handy dandy little number cost about 5 bucks, which as they say, kicked ass.  So they run the gamut, but I'd say get the cheapest one, if all you need is an adapter. 

This might be another time to recall some other fun memories of the United States.  For those of you unfamiliar with the other differences between the US and Europe, you have to convert power as well.  Now, as luck would have it, I ran to a Radio Shack and got exactly what I needed to make the power conversion in the US in about 20 seconds, lock, stock, and barrel. Mathieu's French playstation was ready for a rest run in two days.

Now in France, well, the situation became more complicated.  Mathieu paid about 45 dollars for a converter, and we thought everything was fine.  We took it home, and what to our wandering eyes should appear, but a new roadblock we had never thought about in the US.  Certain stepup and stepdown converters are only rated for a certain number of watts.  The one we had bought was rated for 8 watts.  The PS3 was said to pull as much as 380.  So welcome back to square one.  All was not lost though as we could use the charger for the DS, which could not convert.  That made life easier on one count.

We eventually found an industrial strength model, rated for up to 700 watts.  That meant that we could plug in both the PS3 and the 360 if we really wanted to.  It was insanely heavy for it's size, and actually has a fuse for additional security.  Of course we had the usual rules.  No one was allowed to turn it on if my partner or I was not there to make sure that the setup was right.  If you are done using it, turn off said giant stepdown converter and unplug the device.  Of course there were a few snafus such as the ever famous "Did you unplug it before you turned it off because what if it doesn't restrict power flow once it's off?" controversy.  Generally though, it all worked out pretty well though.  That was not all that our friends had in store for us.

You might of noticed when I was talking about our time in the US, and getting a French PS2 working, I did mention ready to be tried, because I never got it working until 5 months before we were moving back to France.  The last hurdle we couldn't overcome with our first TV was the difference in signals.  The television, being American, ran in NTSC and the PS2, as it was French, ran in PAL.  The first television we had was one of those 27 inch Sharps that everyone had about 15 years ago that only had a coax/antenna input.  (It's shocking to think that this was 15 years ago.  That sounds so, old.  I feel old now.)  So we got it all working, except that the screen kept rolling.  After doing some research, this is called "PAL rolling screen" and is next to impossible to take care of, short of a priest or a $700 VCR.  Neither of us being religious men, we said fuck it for about 4 years, and let it sit in our closet.

Coming back to the part where I got it working, my partner and I were trying to see if it would even be worth it to take them with us.  We stumbled upon an interesting post that apparently said you can bypass the standard difference should you have a digital input.  Of course, since we were now part of the well to do crowd, we had bought a TV with HDMI to take full advantage of our recently purchased PS3 and 360.  So we tested it first on the TV.  Since a PS2 is old tech, there was no HDMI out for it. There was, however Component, which is sort of this bizarre lovechild of digital and analog.  Well, it said there was an input, but it couldn't recognize it, which was well, quite honestly worse off than when we started.  But what about the little TV in the other room?  The $200 TV that we had bought to play games and watch TV/DVDs in bed!  Low and behold, after 5 years of dithering, there we go.  It was grainy at best through the  TV, but by god I could finally fight Penance!

So of course reading the above, it's fairly obvious that our TV got sent across to France.  All the necessary components were together, and well, SUCCESS!!!!!  It all works, and we can play all our systems.  I know it makes us evil, but well, everything's here, and it works, and it's gorgeous.  Of course, our room is a shrine to various forms of technology.  Computers, systems, cords, and shit running everywhere.  Seriously, furniture position was actually determined by outlet proximity. 

So in the process of getting our consoles and handhelds Europificated, I should mention about some high points.  Did you know that the Playstation Portable's charger automatically switches for you?  So you don't have to mess with anything except a nice, cheap converter plug.  I would really like to say that was a genius move on Sony's part there.  I should also warn you that this is on a first generation PSP so check your charger brick before you go and plug it into a wall willy nilly. 

Another thing that may be of use to know is how the consoles match up with game compatibility, which is spotty at best.  Always make sure to find out about localization before trying to play something that shouldn't be played in another system.  You can do some serious damage. 

For the Playstation platform, you can pretty much be safe with anything working, and working internationally.  The first attempt was at a game store here in town where we weren't sure if it would work.  So I took my PSP with me and we tried it out.  It loaded a few French games without a hitch.  Not only did it load the games no problem, but it ran them in, shock of shocks, English.  The screen to quit one game did come up in French, but a small glitch, to say the least.  The game played great, and without any errors.  So after that, we decided to be crazy, and try a PS3 game.  I was convinced because of localization it would never fly.  But low and behold, we put it in, and started up in English!  So good news is that pretty much all the information was already on the disc, which made life, much simpler.  Now it should be known this is just for the PSP and PS3.  This trick does not, and will not ever work for a non hacked PS2.  Just know that now. 

I have not tried anything with any of the Nintendo systems, so anyone with word on that, let me know.   Unfortunately, the 360 is region locked so no games shared between foreign cultures.  Microsoft is cold like that.  So what can you do really.  Sorry. 

And well, that was our odyssey with game systems.  I will write more when something else piques my interest.  Until then!

Monday, January 4, 2010

A River Runs Through It

(A necessary Preface, I believe:  Please do not cite this in any professional manner as all this information was taken off Wikipedia.  Use a nice, verifiable, able to be referenced encyclopedia.  This is mostly cocktail trivia I provide on this site.)

No, I have not seen the movie of the same name, but I think it's a rather epic title, if I don't say so myself.  This post came about because of a discussion in the car on the way to Tours this weekend.  We were taking my niece back to school there, and she mentioned about how the river in Tours is called "La Loire" while the river in the town where I am staying is called "Le Loir."  Now, this is something I never really thought about, but I was really confused by the fact that now not only were rivers feminine, but they could also be masculine, should they so choose.

Now, of course, my original thought was that it would logically follow with the "e" as quite a few feminine endings occur on words that end in "e."  There was "La Seine" in Paris as well as "La Garonne" in Bordeaux.  Ok, so we had a logical pattern.  Of course, that plan was quickly put to rest when "Le Rhône" was brought to my attention. 

Another thought was maybe it was the size of the river.  Maybe because the word for a smaller river carried a different gender, therefore it would require that different particle.  So what were the words in French for rivers?  The first word, "La Riviere," can be used for any smaller river that runs into another river, so what we'd call a tributary in English.  Examples of tributaries would be the rivers that empty into the Loire.  There's the "La Loir" and "La Cher."  The other word, "Le Fleuve" is used for a word that empties into an ocean.  So for example, the Seine empties into the English Channel, and therefore would be "un fleuve."  The same could be said for the Rhône and the Loire, which respectively empty into the Mediterranean Sea and the Bay of Biscay.  However, that idea was shot down because the word "Le Fleuve" is masculine, and "La Seine" kills that theory for one.  So that's two down.

So I spoke with my brother in law, who is knowledgeable on these conundrums.  He said he did not think there was rhyme nor reason for the genders of the rivers.  He thinks it was most likely chosen by the early inhabitants who imbued the river with gender.  For me, being that I am very much a good little Indo-European boy, my only solution is to give the river a feminine article.

I immediately had to go back to my only other familiarity with foreign languages to check this phenomenon myself.  I was remembering back to German class with "die Donau," "die Havel," und "die Spree."  However, I was amazed to realize that it is "der Rhein," and "der Main."  So it appears as though most nations don't have hard and fast rules about the genders of rivers.

Now, of course to me, nothing is more fascinating than where the names of these rivers come from.  As we all know in the US, something like ninety five percent of all rivers are from Amerindian languages: Ohio, Mississippi, Chattahoochee, Allegheny, Monongahela, Missouri, Rappahannock, etc.  (I am sorry for not going further west but the only river I can think of out West right now is the Columbia, and I doubt that's anything in any Amerindian language.)

Some French river names are sometimes very simple.  One my brother in law explained to me is that the Rhône River comes from a Greek root, meaning "to flow."  Van Gogh also did a painting called Starry Night Over the Rhône. Additionally, the Loire river comes from a Latin root, Liger, which is a transcription of the Gaulish Liga, meaning silt or deposit.  The Seine, it is said, is from a Latin root "sequana" which is said to be a transliteration of a Gaulish word, "sicauna."  It is said to mean "sacred river."

Of course, to me it's just amazing to be able to see the history here, even in place names.  Then again, I am kind of an historical linguistics geek like that.  It's amazing to think that some of these rivers and places have had people for centuries before the US even existed.  Even more bizarre is that I share DNA with them, most likely.  So here's to hoping you had a great Holiday, and unfortunately for all; it's time to get back to work.  I hope Monday was kind to you.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Meilleurs Voeux!

So it's been quite a bit since I have actually made a post here, that's no secret.  Hell, look at the dates.  I do claim the right to use that it has been a busy time of year.  After all, the Holidays are the biggest traveling time of the year.  The main distraction has been the festivities.  I am still blown away by how different the French notion of a party is from that of Americans.

If I say I am having a party, your first thought is lots of booze, lots of people, and possibly a summons to appear by varying law enforcement agencies.  The parties I think of when someone says parties means throwing on a shirt that looks nice, but you don't care about seeing possibly covered in a drink/vomit.  I should probably add the fact that I am pretty middle class in my upbringing, and went to a state college.  I know, start the snickering now.  You also, as a guy, would never think of wearing dress pants.  It's just not worth the hassle when jeans are so much more comfortable/functional.  Especially in colder weather.

Parties can be appended with different words in English that denotes another function.  The above paragraph is defined as a house party.  Additionally, an intimate party means just a group of friends together hanging out, of course.  Usually, because I am a geek, the party centralized around a gaming console or a movie.  But it usually means a group of friends, what in the US amounts to a casual gathering of friends.  Of course, I am of the opinion that the best parties end at around 5 am at Waffle House, that just doesn't happen here. 

Now there's another type of party that I have not mentioned yet, mainly because I never went to them in the US.  These are always shown as people in their 30s or 40s with their friends in their well-appointed houses with their stylish place settings, etc.  (as I have never been to one, I can only go off of ads like those for Kohler. This is the ad I think of mostly when someone says dinner party.

The first thing you will need if you are attending a dinner party is to bring a small gift of some sort.  Usually, the most common is a bouquet but bottles of wine are almost just as common.  I have also seen chocolates given as well.  There are any number of small things you can get, but obviously the price should not exceed a certain amount, usually no more than twenty euros.  Also, make sure that you take the price tag off before giving the gift. 

The first course is usually an aperitif course.  Aperitif is basically the same thing as an appetizer. There are usually small things to eat, but they are not usually as casual looking as they are in the US.  They are often made with puff pastry or pâte à choux similar to a cream puff. There are crackers and olives as well usually.  Most of the time they are eaten with champagne, a very common hostess gift for such events. 

The second course usually will be some sort of larger appetizer, but especially around the holidays there are oysters.  Oysters are an acquired taste and by and large are either loved or hated.  I am in the love camp.  All the oysters I have had in France tend to be obviously a little salty with a clean finish, for me usually tasting a bit like watermelon.  (Real watermelon too, not the artificial flavoring.)  Most commonly they are served cold on the half shell with either a shallot and red wine vinaigrette or simply with lemon.  There are some people who can eat them without either addition, but they are few and far between.  There is also a medium dense wheat bread with butter served with it.  The best of the breads are those that have the addition of shallots baked in, in my opinion.  You also must separate the oyster from the shell, as most of the time, they do not come detached.  It's relatively simple and often that is the function if you see a small, squat fork above your plate.  You will also get a little bit of shell in your mouth at some point.  It won't kill you, but try and be adept about removing it from your mouth.

The second course tends to be salmon, but this is another variance depending on the time of year.  Salmon is usually served either smoked or marinated.  Smoked salmon is one of the things I consider most incredible in a bagel with some cream cheese.  I am an American, after all.  It is served often with blini which are medium sized savory pancakes.  The batter may be a little thinner though as they always seem to be lighter than the ones I make.  Additionally, lemon is added to bring out the flavor of the salmon.  The marinated salmon is usually marinated in onions, dill, bay leaves, and other spices, and covered in lemon juice.  The lemon juice, as an acid, cooks the salmon as it marinates.  After the salmon has satisfactorily marinated, it is cleaned, and ready to serve.  Usually, I add lemon to it, as it does help to perk up the flavoring again.  The spices tend to become too blended after marination. 

There are two types of meat I have eaten the most here in France that we do not eat in the US, rosbeef and rabbit.  Rosbeef is obviously a cut of beef, which I cannot say for sure.  It is usually served medium rare to rare, and is incredible when done correctly.  I have always been on the happy side of par with the rosbeef of course, and must say it is a possible favorite cut of meat.  As I said, it is served rare so people who are very concerned with the doneness of meat would be well advised to steer clear of this.  This is not something you want to eat well done.  Rabbit is usually served in more of a stew or stuffed.  I have myself never eaten rabbit that was just served as rabbit without some sort of accompaniment.  Most commonly, I have eaten it stuffed.  I cannot explain it more than being a more intensely flavored meat than lamb.  It's something you can only really try to see if you will like.  Rabbit, like oysters, are a polarizing food. 

Now the savory portion may end here, but there is always dessert of some kind.  Often there are apples, pears and usually clementines at this time of year.  France also tends to have a variety of exotic fruits for the holidays, not limited to mangoes and kiwi as most American palate.  There was an abundance of lychee and pomegranates in the grocery stores here in France.  Often shortcakes of differing types are served.  They tend to be home made of course as most things are.  There may also be a variety of tarts and cakes.  There is one of which the name escapes me, but it's a variety of nuts covered in powdered sugar. 

Dessert around the holidays often includes two desserts that can only appear at this time of year.  The first is fairly familiar.  I have seen Yule Logs before, but never eaten them.  I only had a passing knowledge of them in the US.  As best I can describe it is similar to a jelly roll made of genoise and usually chocolate frosting.  It was very good, and surprisingly more sugary than most French desserts. Downright satisfying if you will.  The other cake is called Galette du roi.  It is a very flaky pastry filled with frangipane.  Often a small prize is baked inside the cake and whoever gets the prize wears a crown not entirely unlike a burger king crown.  Usually it's done for children who determine who gets what piece (occasionally while hiding under the table.) 

The end of the meal usually happens when it's time to have tea or coffee.  Usually it is best to take the hostess up on the offer, as tea really does help things sit better on the way home.  Often there are special digestive infusions served for the purpose, but even a small cup seems to help settle a stomach after what has to be called a marathon of eating.  The full range of courses at these parties can last 6 to 7 hours around the holidays.  Usually the company and food are so good, you don't know what time it is until you look at your watch.  Of course, it depends on the party.